Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

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“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

– Rudyard Kipling

Rio, depending on the district, smells of food, sewage and sweat, with undertones of tropical humidity. Despite the surprising state of dilapidation that the majority of the city seems to be monopolised by, the landscape is incredibly beautiful. Small mountains and outcrops covered in lush green foliage are scattered around the city and the hills form a patchworks of the multicoloured brick houses which make up the slums.  The metro travels above the ground, so is a great way to get a glimpse of the different outer regions as you fly through. My commute out to the crèche today gave me a little insight into what life might actually be like living and working in the city. However there is still one major barricade: People keep assuming I live here so start jabbering away at me in Portuguese whilst I stare at them blankly, eventually getting the chance to feebly pipe up: “English!” To which they respond “que, entende nada?” Which, being similar to the Spanish, translates as “What, you understand nothing?”  What I find quite amusing is being able to shout “Oi!” at people and for it to be received as an enthusiastic greeting.

I felt rather superfluous at the crèche today. It’s well run and well staffed. I’m not really sure why they’re recruiting extra volunteers. However, it was interesting to see how they go about the day and the toddlers, although admittedly annoying at times (one little boy peed in the ball pit), were generally adorable and, being around two years old, didn’t hesitate to climb all over me.

The afternoon was when things started to go slightly haywire. I arrived back at the hostel at midday to find no update from the airport. In the absence of my luggage I seem to have gone slightly mad and went out on a bit of a spending extravaganza. I headed first to the Botafogo bay area which has views of the Christ statue and sugar loaf mountain. As a bonus the harbour water isn’t great for swimming so the beach was completely empty. After pottering about in the shops I headed down to Copacabana which was the complete opposite end of the spectrum. However, saying that, it wasn’t quite as busy as I’d expected it to be. My ridiculous purchase of the day was a beaded Brazilian carnival outfit which was pretty expensive but I couldn’t resist. They even fitted it to my exact size. In hindsight, I’ve got to go back to collect it tomorrow at some point, which is inconvenient, and it’s heavy and mildly bulky so not ideal for carting around for three months…but it will make for fantastic fancy dress!

P.S. I discovered that they do fantastic fruit juices here, with stalls/shops everywhere. My favourite is açai with strawberry which is mixed with ice, like a slushy.

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D is for Dangerous

Things have gone pretty pear shaped. I went to Mrs Nomino (the headmistress) yesterday morning as I was fed up of the way Margaret has been treating me. I already pay her weekly to look after me yet she has been demanding extra money left right and centre and insisting that I buy all the food which she then cooks for all of the people she invites round. I am running on my student loan. I cannot afford to be basically feeding a family of five or so each night. Anyway, Margaret had been leaving me on my own in the hut for large periods of time whilst she goes out to chew betelnut or drink which, after the incident with Alo, has made me feel pretty uneasy. She was frequently coming back too drunk to cook in the middle of the afternoon and she doesn’t wash up after cooking for days explaining the mice army swarming around the place.

I’ve just found out that an unmarried woman sleeping in the same house as an unmarried man for a night is a strict faux-pas here. I can see why. Any unmarried man see’s  a single woman, particularly a white one as fair game. Being friends with an unmarried man here has a lot more significance and implications behind it than at home! Margaret has twice now invited strange men back to stay the night with us. The first time it was her creepy son, Jack. She promptly left for the evening leaving me on my own with him. I went to bed straight away. About an hour or so later he came into my room, lifted up my mozzy net, sat on my bed and started trying to give me a back massage and trying to force me to turn over. I firmly told him to leave and held my ground – trying not to appear weak or vulnerable. Thankfully he eventually gave up and left the room. I did not sleep after that for hours. Margaret invited two more men to stay on Friday; they were drunk and didn’t want to face their fathers. One of them was the savage who cooked my possum. Great, invite two drunk men back to an open hut which contains all of my valuables and with only a sarong hanging in a doorway to seperate us. Cheers for that. (To rub salt in the wounds she cooks them lots of MY eggs which she served on lots of MY bread but that seems relatively trivial) Anyway Mrs Nomino took me away to her house. Will keep you posted.

Money

So it turns out I left my VISA card in Brisbane. Not ideal. Not only do I need to buy food etc I also am required to pay Margaret around 100Kina a week (around £25). After a massive panic, including ringing Anna, Mum and Wendy in Australia we decided that I needed to open up a PNG bank account so that Wendy could transfer some money over to me. Today after hanging about for about three hours (the Papua New Guineans move at a very glacial pace) Margaret’s brother-in-law Paul took me into Goroka (30 minutes on a small, crammed bus) where I opened a new bank account with one of PNG’s 3 banks – West Pacific.

Just as an indication of the technological backwardness of Goroka, we went to get Paul’s driving license renewed with a new photo and after waiting for an hour we had to give up as their printer had jammed.